Cardinal Vincent Nichols is the inspiration and editor of the widely used Walk with Me prayer and scripture series which this year is rooted very much in Pope Francis’ recent Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium (The Joy of the Gospel). He shares with Bible Alive readers how praying and studying this wonderful document from Pope Francis is a great way to journey through Lent and prepare for the great joy of Easter.
The theme for Walk with Me is very much rooted in the recent exhortation of Pope Francis, Evangelii Gaudium (The Joy of the Gospel) in which he encourages us to rediscover the joy, hope and enthusiasm of the gospel message.
This gospel joy can be constantly born anew in us as we come to a new and living encounter with the Lord. Pope Francis’ hope is that strengthened in this joy we will enter with new confidence and hope a new chapter of evangelization.
Lent is the perfect time for this to begin because this holy season invites us to examine our conscience, repent of our sin and take up with new vigour the ancient disciplines of prayer, fasting and almsgiving so as to purify our lives, and grow closer to the Father who has lavished his love on us.
We make Pope Francis’ prayer our own: ‘Lord, I have let myself be deceived; in a thousand ways I have shunned your love, yet here I am once more, to renew my covenant with you. I need you. Save me once again, Lord, take me once more into your redeeming embrace.’
For it is in admitting that we are lost and wandering and in need of God’s mercy that we come to know and experience God’s tender love.
Lent then is an opportunity for us to know this deep joy of the Lord. This joy is rooted in the revelation that we did not first love God but that God first loved us (1 John 4:19).
Lent is often understood as a time for us to either give up things (sweets, smoking etc) or take up things (prayer, fasting and almsgiving) and, of course, it is. For sure we are invited to deny ourselves and take up our cross and follow Christ.
However, Lent is also a time to receive from the Lord. By humbling ourselves, seeking out God’s mercy in the Sacrament of Reconciliation and drawing close to God in prayer, we receive a new, living, fresh and lively hope in God’s plan for our lives as well as a renewed sense of our call and mission to be Spirit-filled evangelists.
May God bless you and pour out the Holy Spirit upon you as we journey together to renew our baptismal promises and celebrate the great joy and victory of the Risen Lord.
Evangelii Gaudium by Pope Francis is a reflection on Christian joy; an exhortation to begin a journey to recover this blessing of Christian joy. This fruit of the Spirit, which changes our lives and makes us more effective and fruitful witnesses of the gospel, also makes us Spirit-filled evangelists.
The raison d’etre of the Church, the very reason she exists, is to evangelise and win souls for Christ However, for many reasons, we can lose sight of this and become caught up in many other distractions or simply be consumed by our own selfishness and narrowness of vision.
When we are in the grip of this kind of thinking and acting we can easily lose our joy, confidence and enthusiasm for the gospel message. Pope Francis, with affection and humour, challenges us to examine our lives and seek out this joy that comes from God and only God can give.
The Pope says many encouraging, challenging and rather startling things about living the Christian life in Evangelii Gaudium.
For example he says: ‘There are Christians whose lives seem like Lent without Easter.’ ‘An evangelizer must never look like someone who has just come back from a funeral.’
And he gently chastises an attitude of defeatism which lurks in many of us which turns us into querulous and disillusioned pessimists or ‘sourpusses’ as he calls them. Amusingly the translation of ‘sourpusses’ is literally ‘the face of a pickled pepper.’
The Pope is in essence encouraging us to a deeper conversion to Christ. Because at its very core, the gospel is about coming to know Jesus of Nazareth, as our Lord and our God. As Pope Benedict said: ‘Being a Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction’.
Rooted and grounded in this encounter and continually renewed by God’s grace we can then reach out to others with the life-giving and life-changing message of Christ. But the Church has always taught that the evangelizer first needs to be evangelized; we cannot give away joyfully what we do not joyfully treasure.
At the heart, then, of all renewal is first and foremost personal conversion and repentance. Once we experience the joy and new life of the Lord we are strengthened and refreshed to bring the joy of Christ and the Good News of the gospel to others. In the power of this joy we are empowered to serve the poor with a renewed love, become more active and involved in our parishes and dedicate ourselves more fully to the mission of the Church in the world.
Our journey through Lent, then, is a pilgrimage to discover together once again the joy of Christ, the great joy of the gospel. This is not a shallow or facile joy; nor does it not take into account the many difficult challenges we face.
It is a joy however that comes from the Holy Spirit and gives us comfort and consolation whatever the trials and sufferings of our lives may be.
Pope Francis is calling for us to enter this new chapter with new joy and enthusiasm but he understands that this journey of grace requires prayer and reflection and the pouring out of the Holy Spirit into our hearts and minds.
The daily reflections in Walk with Me and Bible Alive can help us. Try to carve out some time from your busy schedules to ponder on the daily reflections, look up the scripture reference for the day and read the scripture text, reflect on the introductory quote in Walk with Me for each day by Pope Francis from Evangelii Gaudium, and perhaps even write down in the space at the bottom of the page your daily prayers and reflections.
God will richly bless and reward our efforts to grow in faith and draw close to him during this special and holy season.
Pope Paul VI had a great vision of the Church’s mandate to evangelize and preach the gospel. Lent, then, is an opportunity for us to recover again, in a fresh and new way, a heart brimming with a joy and confidence in Christ and the power of the gospel, the gospel which changes lives and transforms our world.
‘Let us recover and deepen our enthusiasm, so that we can know that delightful and comforting joy of evangelizing, even when it is in tears that we must sow… And may the world of our time, which is searching, sometimes with anguish, sometimes with hope, be enabled to receive the good news not from evangelizers who are dejected, discouraged, impatient or anxious, but from ministers of the Gospel whose lives glow with fervour, who have first received the joy of Christ’ (Evangelii Nuntiandi 80).